Magill’s Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature The Postman Analysis
David Brin was voted favorite writer of the 1980’s in a Locus magazine poll. Critics awarded both a Hugo and a Nebula to Startide Rising (1983; revised in 1985) and a Hugo to The Uplift War (1987). Both are part of the Uplift sequence, which also includes Sundiver (1980).
Brin holds a doctorate in astrophysics and has experience as a working scientist. He is considered a writer of hard science fiction, one who uses scientific extrapolations and explanations in his plots. Brin adds complexity with themes drawn from soft science fiction, a subgenre of works that use social sciences and deal more with human affairs than with the technology that predominates in hard science fiction. Brin’s blend expands the boundaries and blurs the distinctions between the types.
The Postman, Brin’s fourth novel, illustrates this combination. Technological explanations for the holocaust are not stressed. As the prelude suggests, the life-and-death struggle for recovery is more significant. Brin examines standards of human and governmental behavior in a world where daily survival is not always a minimum expectation.
The Postman centers on behavioral aspects of the human uplift process. Krantz wants leaders to help people rise from the ashes of the dying world and rebuild a new, civilized world. His meditations on leadership and the ethical qualities needed emphasize this theme. Who will be...
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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series The Postman Analysis
David Brin presents several messages in this novel, not all of them in the form of clear opinions or stances. The most obvious message is that social identity is a product of one’s interactions with society. The main character, Gordon Krantz, becomes “the Postman” when he dons the uniform and enters the town of Cottage Grove. Although Gordon worries throughout the novel about the false image that he is presenting, he continues to play the role, past the end of the novel, and people continue to treat him as a representative of past and future organized societies.
Gordon’s emotions toward Dena Spurgen are mixed, even though he admires her intelligence and they become lovers. The primary messages that the character Dena Spurgen embodies as a feminist are twofold. Her letter calls for women to judge men and eliminate the bad ones, giving women an air of higher moral authority. Her efforts in the war with the Holnists also emphasize the theme throughout the novel that with freedom comes duty. Dena is not a strongly developed character, and, except for Gordon Krantz, neither are any of the others. It is not unusual for authors to use poorly developed characters in science fiction as props for the true goals of the novel: an extrapolation of what human society might be like if a particular technology is developed and used.
John Stevens’ noble sacrifice of his life for an ideal is handled as a mixed message as well. Gordon, having recruited John as a postmaster and being aware that the “Restored United States” is a sham, feels guilt that John has lost his life attempting to rescue the mail. Yet, several times in the novel, Gordon puts his own life in danger in order to protect letters.
Brin also points out the value of knowing history, of understanding what has gone before; this important lesson is often taught in post-nuclear holocaust novels. The author also espouses the opinions that science benefits everyone (“especially the weak”) and that soldier-citizens who long to return to their civilian lives form the best type of military force for a nation.
The Postman is suitable for high school students. The vocabulary is challenging at times, and the fact that no clear resolution to the problems is presented invites discussion of the novel’s themes.
The Postman won the John W. Campbell, Jr., Memorial Award for best science-fiction novel of 1985. Other novels by David Brin that would appeal to this age group and that end with more satisfying resolutions for the main character are The Practice Effect (1984), the story of an alternate universe where the more something is used, the newer and more modern it becomes; and Glory Season (1993), an exciting, adventurous, coming-of-age story set on a feminist colony planet.
Brin won Hugo Awards (science fiction achievement awards) for Startide Rising (1983) and its sequel, The Uplift War (1987), novels in which intelligent dolphins and chimpanzees cooperate with humans in space exploration and colonization.
Two other post-nuclear holocaust novels that would also be suitable for this age group are False Dawn (1978), by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Warday and the Journey Onward (1984), by Whitley Streiber and James W. Kunetka.